It's Thursday, and it's sadly still the offseason for the Buffalo Bills and their fans, which means it's time once again for our weekly mailbag feature. Resuscitated last week, we're back for a second iteration today, and strongly encourage everyone to send in their questions - via email, Twitter, or whatever other medium; doesn't matter - no matter how mundane they seem.
We have plenty to talk about today, but fair warning: half of the questions are financial in nature. If accounting bores you, we'll also be talking about defensive schemes and getting enough touches for the Bills' new-look stable of offensive skill players. Let's get to it! Our first question was submitted via email by Luke Hirten, who asks...
Why was Jim Schwartz's 2014 defense so much better than the 2012 version that had a similar scheme under Wannstedt?
Two reasons: he had better players, and he did more with them. That's the short answer.
Marcell Dareus wasn't an All-Pro performer when Wannstedt was here. Neither was Mario Williams, frankly. Wannstedt didn't have the pass-rushing complement in Jerry Hughes to work with that Schwartz did (the closest he came was Kyle Moore). The linebacker situation was night and day better for Schwartz; where Wannstedt tried to get by with Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard, and then-rookie Nigel Bradham, Schwartz was working with a fully-developed Bradham, a solid rookie in Preston Brown, and one of the league's best run-defending middle linebackers in Brandon Spikes. Wannstedt also had the rookie-year version of Stephon Gilmore, they were still trying to force Aaron Williams to be a cornerback, and the drop-off from Nickell Robey and Corey Graham as the sub-package corners to Wannstedt's guy, Justin Rogers, is pretty staggering.
They were deeper from a personnel standpoint, but Schwartz was also just a more aggressive play-caller, and tweaked the basics of his base 4-3 just enough to make it inherently more aggressive. Clearly, scheme isn't everything.
Thanks for the question, Luke!
On to the Twitter submissions...
@BuffRumblings Are the chances really good that we bring back both Gilmore and Dareus long term? They are cornerstone players and we need em— Tom Applegate (@Tsauce88) March 26, 2015
Well, let's start with this: it's too early to call Gilmore a cornerstone player. He is a good player, and has been great for stretches, but is still very inconsistent, and hasn't really had a break-out season yet. Give him a year under Rex Ryan, and see where we're at this time next year. He's already going to be under contract for the 2016 season, anyway; I don't consider Gilmore an urgent re-signing priority at all, and I highly doubt the Bills do, either.
Dareus, on the other hand? He's a cornerstone guy. 24-year-old All Pro players do not come around very often, and the Bills are going to have to pay huge to keep him around. He's on the level with most every other defensive lineman in the NFL not named J.J. Watt right now, and will be paid accordingly - though in trying to sign him to the cheapest deal possible, the Bills can legitimately argue that he's not an overly dynamic pass rusher, because he isn't. He is good there, but he is not great. He is, however, a great run defender, and an outstanding athletic talent.
As for the chances that both are signed long-term? I don't think we have to be asking that question yet, especially as it concerns Gilmore. Dareus should be the team's top priority right now.
@BuffRumblings How can Bills possibly get their play-makers enough opportunities? Are there enough carries/receptions to go around? #Bills— Michael Sebring (@SyraBillsLican) March 26, 2015
This is a question that's asked a lot, and honestly, I don't think it means much from the most-referenced angle of keeping players happy. It has a "don't cross that bridge until you come to it" vibe, and if the Bills are succeeding on offense and winning games, the players and the coaches will be happy. Plus, there are always things that can be done to manipulate more touches into the equation, like running an up-tempo offense.
That said, it's definitely going to be interesting to see not only the touch disparity, but the on-field playing time for the Bills' new skill group. The one guy that probably doesn't need to worry about any of this is LeSean McCoy; his presence is going to lead to dwindling playing time for the team's reserves, Fred Jackson in particular. Charles Clay is going to play a ton, as is Sammy Watkins. The really interesting situation to keep an eye on is the dynamic between Percy Harvin and Robert Woods, in terms of how Greg Roman utilizes them.
@BuffRumblings Please explain CJ Spiller's dead cap hit for 2015.— Brian Emmm (@BrianManGang) March 26, 2015
They are lingering accountings of bonuses already paid. C.J. Spiller counts $2,167,917 against the Bills' cap figure in 2015, per Spotrac.com. Remember that Spiller's rookie contract was a six-year deal that voided after the fifth year - meaning that any bonuses paid out would be prorated over the full length of the contract. That's why the Bills still have a year left of accounting when it comes to their 2010 first-round pick, despite his new contract in New Orleans.
Of that $2.167 million cap hit, $333,334 is the remaining prorated portion of his $2 million signing bonus, and the rest ($1,834,583) is the prorated portion of a $9,172,915 option bonus that the Bills paid Spiller between his first and second pro seasons. Hope this helps!
Thanks again to those of you that submitted questions this week. We're looking forward to seeing what you come up with this time next week!